Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Read this laid back on a pile of pillows in your bed, legs tangled in the sheet, and let the words luxuriate in your mind as you do.

From the chapter entitled, The Missionary of the Delicious:

     “But while cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures. The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce. The thump of the knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart. The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid. The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes. Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions.

    That fall, worried about Carol and wondering about my work, I spent weeks standing at the counter, chopping onions, peeling apples, and rolling dough. I made complicated soups and stews, and I began baking bread every day, as I had done when Michael and I first lived together.

     In the end I came to realize that a restaurant critic’s job is more about eating than writing, and every time I cancelled a reservation I grew more seriously behind. I was having a secret affair with cooking, and I knew it could not continue. But every morning, after walking Nicky to school, I’d go home and sit in the kitchen, sifting through my recipes. A jumble of handwritten pages, they were gathered into an ancient, torn manila folder filled with memories. Tomorrow, I’d think, tomorrow I’ll go out to eat, tomorrow I’ll go back to the restaurants. And then I’d turn over another page and a long-gone meal would come tumbling out, more evocative than any photograph could ever be.

     Here was apricot upside-down cake, written in my mother-in-law’s neat, careful script. Here was Aunt Birdie’s potato salad, scratched in her feathery penmanship and signed with her funny little bird. My own recipes for six different pie crusts were carefully printed for the students at my cooking classes. Serafina’s scrawled instructions for coconut cake were almost illegible, as if she had not quite wanted to part with the recipe. My mother’s thick, bold writing danced exuberantly across a page torn from the New York Times in the mid-sixties. ‘Sounds like you!’ she’d written across a recipe called ‘Minetry’s Miracle.’ I looked it over; it required a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, a pint of cream, and a cup of bourbon (not to mention chocolate, pecans, ladyfingers, and macaroons). Indeed.

     Then a recipe written on blue-lined paper leapt into my hand. The writing was not familiar. ‘Aushak,’ I whispered, and suddenly it came to me. An Afghan exchange student had given it to me when I was an undergraduate with a reputation as a cook. At the time these scallion dumplings had seemed too strange, too exotic, too time-consuming, and I had never attempted them. Now, studying the ingredients, I was curious. The dumplings sounded delicious. Yes, I thought, writing out a grocery list, this is my recipe for today.” 

If that doesn’t make you want to high-tail it into the kitchen, or at least go out to eat, then you’re either full from munching on a bag of potato chips or you need to read it again.


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